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Mayor Cantrell insists on respect for Sewerage & Water Board at well-attended job fair

Addressing a crowd of job seekers Friday (July 13), New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell called for the city to show some respect for the oft-criticized Sewerage Water Board, which has come under harsh fire for its handling of drainage and customer billing issues.

Cantrell aimed a few strong words at critics amid remarks praising those looking to reduce the utility’s staffing shortfall. She spoke at a daylong job fair held Friday at Xavier University.

“No longer will we tolerate disrespect as it relates to the Sewerage Water Board,” Cantrell said. “And I don’t care where it comes from, because you all deserve respect every step of the way, and you have a mayor and you have leadership in place within the Sewerage Water Board, again, to ensure that you succeed.”

Cantrell‘s remarks follow a letter she sent May 24 to New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarrusso, in response to a letter he had penned that referenced the utility’s “terrible customer service, lack of transparency and poor efforts to engage the public.” Cantrell, in her letter, chided the “demands and perceived tone” of Giarrusso’s letter, calling it discouraging to the utility’s staff and leadership morale.

“As we hold them to high standards, we must remember that neither the board members nor the (Sewerage Water Board) employees are our enemies,” Cantrell wrote. “It is incumbent upon us to work with them to benefit the people of our city.”

Overall, Cantrell‘s speech to job hopefuls Friday focused on praise for the utility’s “hard-working men and women” who are “protecting this city in ways that…we sometimes don’t even acknowledge.” She said the job fair would not only steer many people closer to employment, but also help bolster an agency she described as essential to the city’s survival.

“We’ve spent millions in regards to equipment,” Cantrell said. “But you know what? We have to do the same with our people, and that’s what you demonstrate here this afternoon.”

Friday’s job fair saw hundr of people turn out to apply for open positions and complete interviews with hiring managers, utility officials said. To cap the day, Cantrell and the utility’s acting executive director, Jade Brown-Russell, presented job offers to 18 trainees who completed an 18-week instructional program in welding, electrical and machinist skills at Delgado Community College.

“We are in the process of hiring, of filling jobs, of putting people in the pipeline,” Brown-Russell said. “And this is critical work for one of the most critical agencies in our city.”

Acting executive director Jade Brown-Russell speaks following Friday’s job fair. (Photo by Beau Evans, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

SWB spokeswoman D’Seante Parks said the job fair puts the Sewerage Water Board on track to finalize 70 new hires, while another phase to expedite hiring is being hashed out.

As of May 31, the Sewerage Water Board’s human resources department reported the utility had 534 total vacancies. Much of the staffing shortfall is traced to 463 newly budgeted positions added over the past two years, as well as the retirements, resignations or terminations of 395 employees since June 2016, according to a news release. In all, the utility says 574 new employees were hired between June 2016 and April 2018.

Anyone interested in applying to work for the Sewerage Water Board should visit www.swbno.org/jobs.asp to review open jobs and fill out online applications.

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